A multitude of interoperability problems is threatening Hungary’s central government use of free and open source office applications. Many of the government’s software solutions fail to take open document standards into account, stretching the office project’s support resources. The team is also finding it difficult to sustain support from IT management.
“Users expect 100% interoperability with every proprietary document format”, said Gabor Kelemen, one of the IT staff members working for the Office of Public Administration and Justice, a government services department of the Office of the Prime Minister.
Last week, at the LibreOffice annual conference in Aarhus (Denmark), Kelemen spoke about the department’s implementation of the LibreOffice suite of office productivity tools. The project started in 2013, and will end in October this year.
Replacing proprietary office suites by implementing LibreOffice on some 18,000 workstations was never a priority, Kelemen said. The office suites were expected to “just work”, and so no support contract was deemed necessary. There was neither a thorough assessment of existing proprietary document templates and macros, nor a ‘serious effort’ to convince IT management.
Kelemen and his colleagues not only worked on switching to LibreOffice, but also evaluated EuroOffice, a closely related office suite, backed by a Hungarian IT development firm.
In Aarhus, Kelemen concluded the transition to LibreOffice has failed. The project lacks political support, he said: “A transition needs consensus-building and convincing of many decision makers.” He emphasises the need for internal marketing and change management; most of the staff members are open to change, but many county level IT decision makers are resisting. “Switching to LibreOffice is feasible, but not without political support, and it requires organisation of support.”
The LibreOffice project was seen as a way to save costs, while creating two new departments, one of which is the Office of Public Administration and Justice. The other department centralised 15 agencies and grew to over 32,000 employees. The centralisation is meant to improve the IT infrastructure of Hungary’s 198 district offices, by integrating them with the customer service offices. The new organisation is responsible for the majority of Hungary’s government services, including health, pension and unemployment insurances, construction, agriculture and land management, transport, mining and environment.
The new departments are using several free and open source solutions, many based on Suse Linux servers and Suse Linux workstations.